A whole lot of patience.
In February of 1990, while I was still in graduate school, my oldest sister paid for me to participate in a one-week service trip to La Romana. Traveling with my mother, sister, and brother-in-law, I spent my week mixing cement to pour some of the footings for a hospital which, when finished, would provide medical care to Haitians who are lured to the D.R. to cut sugar cane, but while there have no means to access basic medical care.
Another group from Wallingford returned to La Romana in 1996, when I was expecting my firstborn; this time, my husband, mom and brother-in-law were part of the team. This is the year that the Good Samaritan Hospital opened in La Romana.
My family — including my husband, children, mother, sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, half brother and step mother — have all been to the DR numerous times to support this work. We have seen the hospital's wellness care to the sugarcane cutters and their families extend to the network of nearly 200 work camps, called bateys, in the La Romana region.
In 2000, I started working at Watkinson. I was still very committed to supporting the work in the DR, and though I wasn't traveling there as I had two small children, my role was spearheading an annual fundraiser that helped underwrite the service work of the team that had grown to about 35-40 people at that time.
I repeatedly suggested to the head of the upper school and the head of the history department that Watkinson should consider sending a team of students to do a week of service-learning in the DR. So much so, they may have gotten a tad tired of hearing about it. But then, the Grammy Award-winning group The Black Eyed Peas issued a challenge: submit a music video of you singing and dancing to their hit, "I Gotta Feeling" and your video might end up getting flashed on the screen behind them performing on The Grammy's.
At the time, my nephew, who now works for Nickelodeon, was a media studies major at Quinnipiac University. He had access to one of their high-end video cameras and talked me into going to La Romana, pretending I was a famous American talk show host å la Ellen (my name was Traci Basic), and filming a music video with the kids on one of the bateys.
And guess what? We ended up on the Grammy's. And when I went to work the next day and told people what happened, the head of the history department said, "We really ought to send some students down there for a week of service learning!" Seriously, I couldn't make this stuff up.
The Dominican Republic Service Team
The first trip was November of 2010. I led a team of 22 travelers and we spent our week conducting mobile medical clinics on the bateys and building water filters. Since then, the team has grown exponentially and we have formed some meaningful partnerships.
In 2012, I forged an alliance with UConn Health; they send a team of residents with our group and they are the lead doctors on the daily mobile medical clinics which treat about 700 patients over the course of the week. In 2013, I formalized a partnership with the University High School of Science and Engineering, a neighboring magnet school. The high school's Spanish teacher is a Watkinson alum who co-leads the team with me and brings about 20 of her students annually. In 2016, the team had 56 members total. The travelers from these external partners make a donation to Watkinson to compensate the school for its oversight of the trip.
I'm thrilled because these external relationships are so valuable for Watkinson's students and they provide added resource to serve the poor in La Romana. And Watkinson benefits from these new institutional relationships and the dollars they represent. Everybody wins.